Welcome to TLN’s 2014 Top Twenty Leafs Prospects feature, which we are kicking off today and will be running through the next few weeks. This year, Steve Dangle, Jeff Veillette, Bobby Cappucino, Jon Steitzer, Ryan Fancey, Dominik Luszczyszyn, Steve Tzemis, Cam Charron, and Justin Fisher (yours truly) all voted on the Leafs’ top prospects. Every day, we will continue the countdown with a new prospect profile, breaking down who they are, where they play, and how far they’ll go.
To define what a prospect is, we set the limits at 65 career NHL games, or 24 years of age. You play your 66th career game or you turn 25? You’re out. You’re either too good or too bad a player to be considered.
We didn’t give our writers much in the way of ‘voting rules’. Skill level, potential, stats, and proximity to the NHL are all considered, but are not part of any rigid criteria for voting. To break a tie, we considered each player’s’ heart and intangibles. Just kidding.
Without further delay, we kick off TLN’s 2014 Top Twenty Leafs Prospects feature with the honourable mentions. All of the players below appeared in at least one of our writers’ top twenty lists, and therefore get a special shoutout for being almost-worthy of their own article.
Kicking off our honourable mentions is Sam Carrick, 22, who stuck with the Marlies this past season after splitting time between the AHL and ECHL in 2012-13. In 62 games, the Markham, Ontario native score 14 goals and 35 points despite being used primarily in a bottom six, defensive role. Despite raising some eyebrows with an impressive playoff performance, in which Carrick scored nine points in 14 games, there isn’t a whole lot of upside here. At best, Carrick projects to be an NHL role player. Carrick only received votes from four of the nine participating TLN writers, but still managed to nearly crack the top twenty.
Kozun is a fun player to watch. The 5’8 winger with speed to burn, Kozun provided the Marlies with a much-needed injection of offensive skill when he was acquired from the Los Angeles Kings in exchange for Andrew Crescenzi back in January. That being said, Kozun only scored 46 points in 75 games this season – down from 56 points in 74 games in his previous season. There’s a lot to like, but who knows if he’ll ever be consistent enough offensively to get a shot with the (much) big(ger) boys. Kozun received the same amount of votes from our writers as Carrick did, placing him just outside our top twenty.
I don’t know if it’s fair to call Antoine Bibeau the Leafs’ goaltender of the future, but the 20-year old Val d’Or netminder certainly had a successful 2013-14 season. Traded from the Charlottetown Islanders to the Foreurs in December 2013, Bibeau went on to capture a QMJHL Championship, a Playoff MVP award, Memorial Cup Top Goaltender honours, and most importantly an NHL contract. Still, goalies are incredibly hard to project, and especially at such a young age. Bibeau garnered votes from seven of the nine participating TLN writers, but wasn’t ranked particularly high by anyone. If he performs well out of the gates, I wouldn’t be surprised to see Bibeau as high as the early-to-mid teens by the time the midterms roll around.
To say that Tyler Biggs had a rough season would be an understatement. Nine points in 57 games and too-often a healthy scratch, Biggs fell out of favour with a number of TLN writers. Last year we ranked Biggs ninth in the preseason, and 13th in the midterm. Six of us ranked him this time around, but not nearly high enough to put Biggs anywhere close to the consensus top twenty. The funny thing is, there’s a sense amongst some that Biggs could still reach the NHL regardless and carve out a career as a bottom line guy. Time will tell, but it wouldn’t be smart to put money on it.
Christopher Gibson received a handful of low votes, likely more to do with his raw upside and less with a number of close viewings. The Finnish-born netminder suited up for only 12 AHL and 20 ECHL games in 2013-14, and it’s anyone’s guess as to where he’ll get the his lion’s share of starts this season.
Brad Ross will return to the Marlies next season, looking to improve on a 53 game, 10 point campaign. The kid can agitate and play a physical game, but that offensive upside we saw in Junior appears to have been left there.
Ryan Rupert will either struggle to earn ice time with the Marlies this season, or return to the London Knights for his overage year. Either way, there just isn’t much that excited us about Rupert – he received only one vote. We won’t really know what kind of future Rupert has until we see him get a regular shift in the pros, so we’ll remain patient and just mention him honourably for now.
Eric Knodel, who received one vote from our writers, is entering his first full professional season after three years at the University of New Hampshire. He’ll will compete for ice time on a crowded Marlies blue line.
Recent draft picks John Piccinich (4th round, 2013) and Dakota Joshua (5th round, 2013) each received a vote as well.
If Piccinich lines up alongside Jack Eichel this season, we might be hearing a whole lot more about him. The offensive winger will suit up for the Boston University Terriers in 2014-15.
Dakota Joshua will return to USHL’s Sioux Falls Stampede for one more season to further develop his game before joining the Ohio State Buckeyes in 2015-16.